“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Over the years I have heard a number of titles given to this parable in Luke’s Gospel. It has been called the parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable of the Father’s Heart, or as it is entitled in the NIV the parable of the Lost Son.
It is however a long, detailed, and complex parable which Jesus tells and Luke places within the context of the central travel narrative in the Gospel. Here the disciples are following Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross. This is in fact a central point in their calling, and in our calling as well, to be disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ. We are here being shown what it means to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross daily and to follow Jesus.
The specific context here is three parables which Jesus tells about lost things, a sheep, a coin, and two Sons. These parables point out the heart attitude of God in heaven towards those who are lost. These parables come in response to the attitude and the criticism of the Pharisees and
Scribes regarding the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners into His Glorious presence, and even ate with them.
To the Pharisees and their ilk this was proof that Jesus was not a Godly man. One who claimed to be the Messiah should not do such things. He should be more aware of who was around Him. He should also be more circumspect in His relationships. This raises a question for me. How often do I exhibit that same attitude towards the lost, especially those lost who bare such clear evidence of brokenness and corruption that they do? It is those who I find myself feeling uncomfortable around who Jesus spent His time with. What I am thinking is that I limit those who can be found to those who live up to certain standards of my own making. The saved are those who I am comfortable around.
As Pamela Erwin writes in “Adoption Extended” (Article in Adoptive Youth Ministry, Chap Clark Editor, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2016, p. 199).
“At a philosophical level most youth workers probably believe that the gospel is for whosoever will may come, but the day-to-day messiness of living that out in a youth ministry setting often pushes us into the reality of only the ones who look right, act right, and play by our rules are welcome. What this means is only the people who look like us.”
What Erwin writes about youth ministry can be, I believe, applied to all of ministry. Who is welcome? This is what the Pharisees and Scribes were confronting Jesus with. This is the context in which Jesus tells this parable in which we are confronted by a ruined lost son, an equally lost up upstanding older brother, and a Father with a broken heart seeking out that which is lost, and when it found rejoicing with a great celebration. This, Jesus tells us, is the Father’s attitude. It is also the attitude of Jesus who came to “seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) This must also be the attitude of all those who would be disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ.
So what does this mean for the modern Christian?
1) It means that must be 100% committed to following the LORD Jesus Christ. We are to give ourselves without reservation to the LORD and then to His work.
2) It means that we must develop an honest and welcoming attitude towards everyone we meet. This must extend into those areas where we find ourselves becoming uncomfortable. As Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “the flesh dies well there.”
3) It means that we must become increasingly gospel conscious in every part of our lives. Christ-centred prayerfulness and dying to myself are to be a crucial part of my life.